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"Pay to lose" means losing wins

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image Credit: Bill Branson , NIH

Kate Lansing weighs in on the corporate trend of giving monetary incentives to employees to lose weight.

Dieting for dollars! Now there’s an idea I can sink my teeth into while eating and drinking to it.

More and more companies are offering their employees cash incentives to bite the bullet instead of a doughnut and drop a few unwanted pounds.

If I had an employer other than myself, I’d sign up; there’s just one problem -- I’m not overweight. I’d have to pig out before doing the bunny hop to Whole Foods veggie department.

About a third of U.S. companies are betting that they can get their employees to sell their fat if the price is right, said Dr. Kevin Volpp, director of the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Health Incentives.

"There's been an explosion of interest in this," Volpp said.

One example, OhioHealth, and you gotta love the irony of this, because there’s nothing more absurd than walking into any medical facility and seeing fat nurses and boxes of candy and yummy snacks all over the place, and then have your overweight doctor tell you you’re fat. But that’s the inconsistency of being human.

I just laughed my head off when a fortyish-fiftyish doctor who was overweight, sweated like a pig, smoked like a chimney and gasped for breath between sentence want me to change a habit he thought was unhealthful.

And we're supposed to take medical advice from these people who don't practice what they screech seriously?

The bottom line

The bottom line of the bottoms at OhioHealth, a hospital chain where most of the workforce is overweight, was that last year the company launched a program whereby employees were paid for walking and wearing pedometers. The more they walked, the more weight they lost, the more money they made, up to $500 a year.

Money talked for a lot of OhioHealth’s workers with half their 18,000 employees signing up and earning more than $377,000.

Will such incentive programs work?

Not likely, said Kelly Brownell, director of Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. "It's probably a waste of time," he said.

It remains to be seen if Brownell’s pessimistic conclusion is accurate or not. So far, the few studies that have been conducted on “cash for fat” have been inconclusive as to whether people will stick to their diets or not.

The first time around it didn’t work for one man in New York City. Kevin Acocella, 35, an IBM marketing manager, 5-feet-9 and 185 pounds, chalked up his failure after two attempts and the promise of $150 a year, to a “cultural thing.”

"In New York City.” he said, “it was 'what restaurant can we go to, or what bar can we go to?'" But after he transferred to IBM’s San Jose, California, office, it was a different story.

"Here it's, 'What activity can you do, and what can you go see, and how can we figure out a way to not take a car there,'" he said.

Acocella said he lost nine pounds in the first three months, and he re-up’ed for the company’s reward program, but said that this time it's incidental to his new active lifestyle.

"The real issue was getting myself in a program I could actually do and could keep up with. I don't think those things swing on a dollar," Acocella said.

The crap shoot or don’t lose it or lose it approach

Then there’s the reverse psychology crowd. Those, like psychologists who say “people are more motivated by the risk of losing their own money than by a chance they'll win somebody else's.”

It works this way: The dieter puts up money, signs a contract and if he doesn’t lose a certain amount of weight by a date-certain, he forfeits his money. It’s kind of like betting on yourself, which would be illegal if this were a sporting contest.

A tactic used by stickk.com to get its contract players to stick to their diets is to send the forfeited money to an organization or group the person despises.

What would it take to get you to quit a bad habit? And it doesn’t matter what the habit is. Is there any there any amount of financial incentive (bribe) that could get you to diet, quit smoking, hair twisting or nail biting?

Only time will tell if “pay to lose” will meet the promise of “losing means winning!”

Subscribe to comments feed Comments (5 posted):

m3i zero on 06/04/2010 01:06:08
I am totally agree with you that paying for loosing weight is loosing money over all. I have seen that people pays a lot for becoming slim but after leaving that exercise they weigh again.
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London Escorts on 06/04/2010 04:21:25
I wonder why people are spending lots of cash behind loosing weight. It can be possible only by making some different types of efforts apart form wasting cash behind useless treatments.
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Pat on 06/04/2010 12:09:05
I can see this is going to end up in court because these programs discriminate against those who aren't overweight. *eyeroll*
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dresses on 06/14/2010 20:43:02
I wonder why people are spending lots of cash behind loosing weight. It can be possible only by making some different types of efforts apart form wasting cash behind useless treatments.
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london escorts on 09/22/2010 03:10:16
Cant see this working to be honest. The only way people lose weight is when they have made up their mind and have a goal weight/look in their head. Cash incentives wont work unless someone had decided to do it for themselves anyway.
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